NOT Just One Way to Pray

John Piper, in a sermon “The Elders, the People, and the Prayer of Faith”

In James 5:13–18 we see at least three kinds of praying not just one. And all three of them are ways of praying for people who are sick or suffering in some way. You can’t use this text to say there is just one biblical way to pray for the sick. There is a great deal of flexibility possible here.

Praying for Yourself

First, there is praying for yourself. James 5:13, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” Here the suffering may be of any kind. We are not told that only in some kinds of suffering you should pray for yourself. So our response to some suffering should be praying for ourselves evidently without always pulling the elders or other people in, though of course, it doesn’t have to be either-or.

Praying of the Elders over a Sick Person

Second, there is the praying of the elders over a sick person. James 5:14–15, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins he will be forgiven.”

This is a case where the person is so weak and bedridden that they can’t get out easily to the gathered church. We see this condition in the phrase “pray over” (probably signifying their being on a bed with the elders around); and we see it in the statement, “the Lord will raise him up” (implying that they are laid low). So the situation when the elders are called probably involves a physical condition that keeps a person from getting out to the fellowship.

Praying for Each Other

Third, there is the praying for each other. James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed.”

This is very general. It could include what we know as a prayer meeting. It could include private prayer at home for a friend. It could include teams of people praying for others in their presence or at a distance. But notice that the issue is still healing in verse 16: “pray for one another that you may be healed”—not necessarily limited to physical healing but in this context surely not excluding it either. So calling for the elders in the case of a bedridden Christian is NOT the only model in this text. We simply don’t know all the ways that these churches prayed for the sick.